A series of public engagement sessions to be held over the next month will ask for ideas and information on how changes to delivery of healthcare in Niagara may address some of the current challenges, and improve the services that are provided.
The Niagara Ontario Health Team – Team-Équipe Santé Ontario, formed about two years ago, “is made up of a planning table of about 45 organizations, of which the Niagara North Family Health is one,” says Mary Keith, executive director of the health team that includes several Niagara-on-the-Lake physicians and many patients. “We are an integral part of the OHT,” she adds. “Our goals are to provide more seamless and integrated care for patients across the region.”
As well as family health teams, the Ontario Health Team includes social service agencies, educational institutions and a wide range of caregivers.
The public engagement sessions have been planned to help these agencies and organizations fulfill their commitment to working as a team to provide better, inclusive services, support and care to patients, clients, families and caregivers, better access and better overall experiences and health outcomes for Niagara
The first public engagement session was held at the Fort Erie Native Friendship Centre last week, and went well, says Carol Stewart-Kirkby, executive director of the Portage Family Health Team in Niagara Falls, who helped lead the workshop.
With a turnout of about 30 people, she says, “we had some good feedback, good discussions, and good engagement.”
The meetings in the coming weeks, from Sept. 13 to 22, will be offered in two sessions in Welland, in French and English; in St. Catharines, Lincoln, Beamsville and Niagara Falls, and two virtually, one in French and one in English.
“We’re paying close attention to the Indigenous and Francophone communities,” she says, in an effort to better understand their very specific needs and how to serve them better.
With 45 organizations around the table, and a conscious decision that each one, from the largest to the smallest, will carry the same weight in the decision-making process, the outcome will be determined by consensus, she says.
“There will be no moving forward until everyone is confident with the decisions made. We’re all working together for better healthcare, and it’s important that everyone at the table has had their say.”
Input is also very important, she says, from patients, family members, and caregivers. Everyone in Niagara is impacted by healthcare, and getting it right for the future “is a monumental task.”
When Ontario Health Teams were formed two years ago, she says, “I think there was an elevated expectation that was not necessarily realistic. It was not as concrete as we would have expected it to be.”
So while the process isn’t going to be completed quickly, it will be thorough.
It will take time, and small steps to move forward, she explains. “We can’t move any faster. We understand everyone has to be involved in the decision-making process, including the public. We recognize the system hasn’t been perfect, and there is a lot of work to do,” she says, stressing the best way to get it right is for “everyone to get involved, to contribute to making it better.”
Although the process isn’t set in stone, she envisions eventually having focus groups with “pools of people” who want to be involved in certain areas, such as family members or caregivers of people with dementia offering their experiences and their ideas of how to improve care for those who suffer from dementia.
“Their information would feed into the changes we would hope to make to improve the system.”
What those focus groups would be, she says, “we’re waiting to be told. We want the patients, their families and caregivers, directing us. They have stories to tell, and often those stories point us in certain directions.”
For more information about times and locations visit https://noht-eson.ca/events/